After 9th Circuit Ruling in Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, EPA Considers ‘Clarifying’ Clean Water Act Coverage for Discharges Via Groundwater

A recent Ninth Circuit ruling that pollutants reaching waters of the United States through groundwater may trigger Clean Water Act liability has prompted the U.S. EPA to consider clarifying its position on the subject. The Ninth Circuit held last month, in Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, that the Act applies to “indirect discharges” from point sources, such as wells, that eventually make their way to surface waters. Though the Ninth Circuit is not the first federal court to hold that indirect discharges require a permit under the Act, the EPA responded by seeking public comment on whether it should clarify previous statements addressing this topic. The County of Maui subsequently filed a petition on March 1 for en banc rehearing of the Ninth Circuit panel’s opinion. Continue Reading

California Legislation Guide for Developers

Last fall, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a package of 15 bills in response to the state’s housing shortage and affordability crisis. These bills came into effect on January 1st, 2018. The bills have important implications for development projects in California. Here’s what the latest legislation means for your projects: Continue Reading

Under the Radar Changes to Proposition 65 – OEHHA Issues New “Guidance” For Web Purchases (Is it an Illegal “Underground Regulation”?)

If your products are sold online or you operate a website with sales to consumers in California, these changes will impact whether you can obtain “safe harbor” protection under Prop 65.

Over a year after adopting new regulations—which were crafted through an exhaustive 3 year rulemaking process of public workshops, public comments, and revisions to address stakeholders’ concerns—California’s OEHHA (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment) issued a guidance document purporting to change the answer to the question of whether a website warning is sufficient to qualify for “safe harbor” protection or whether a separate type of warning must be provided to the consumer in addition to the website warning. OEHHA, the state entity charged with managing Prop 65, quietly changed its position on the subject and offered so-called “guidance” that imposes much more onerous obligations. If you have already assessed whether you company is in compliance and ready for the new regulations, you should consider reviewing them again. Continue Reading

Tenth Circuit Holds Bureau of Land Management Improperly Relied On Unsupported and Irrational Assumption in Analyzing Environmental Impacts of Coal Mining Leases

WildEarth Guardians v. United States Bureau of Land Management, et al., 870 F.3d 1222 (10th Cir. 2017). WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) brought a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (the “Act”) against the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM), challenging the BLM’s decision to grant four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The basin accounts for almost 40 percent of the United States’ total coal production, and the subject leases would extend the life of two mines that provide almost 20 percent of the United States’ annual domestic coal production. Id. at 1227. Plaintiffs alleged the BLM’s determination that the leases would not have a significant effect on national carbon dioxide emissions, as compared to the “No Action” alternative, was arbitrary and capricious because (1) it was not supported by the administrative record and (2) the BLM failed to acquire information “essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives.” Id. at 1233–34. The Tenth Circuit agreed the decision was not supported by the record and remanded to the district court with instructions to enter an order requiring the BLM to revise its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Records of Decision, but refused to vacate the leases themselves. Id. at 1240. Continue Reading

Tenth Circuit Takes Expansive View of the Definition of the Term “Mining,” Holding Wind Farm Project Needs Permit Prior to Commencement of Excavation in Tribal Mineral Estate

United States of America v. Osage Wind, LLC et al., 871 F.3d 1078 2017 WL 4109940 (10th Cir. Sept. 18, 2017). Causing heartburn for project applicants developing on tribal land, the Tenth Circuit reversed the District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma’s grant of summary judgment and determined that the defendants’ large-scale excavation project, involving site modification and the use of excavated rock and soil in the installation of wind turbines, constituted “mining” under federal regulations addressing mineral development on Native American land. Id. at *1. This decision creates new obligations for developers, which could result in delay and additional costs. Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Weighs In On Circuit Split Regarding CERCLA Contribution Claims After Settlement and The Statute of Limitation

Asarco, LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Company, 866 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017). In a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) contribution case, the Ninth Circuit addressed three issues of first impression for the circuit related to the ability to pursue contribution after settlement and the application of the statute of limitation. Specifically, the court looked at (1) whether a settlement agreement entered into under an authority other than CERCLA may give rise to a CERCLA contribution claim; (2) whether a “corrective” measure under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), qualifies as a “response” action under CERCLA; and (3) what it means for a party to “resolve its liability” in a settlement agreement. Id. at 1113. The Ninth Circuit concluded that a settlement under RCRA may give rise to a CERCLA contribution claim and that corrective measures under a RCRA decree may constitute response costs under CERCLA. Id. at 1113–14. The court found that the CERCLA contribution claim at issue was not barred by the statute of limitation because plaintiff Asarco, LLC (Asarco) did not “resolve its liability” under a 1998 RCRA consent decree, and, therefore, could not have brought its contribution action until a subsequent CERCLA consent decree was issued. Id. Continue Reading

Corps and EPA Push Out Effective Date of Disputed Clean Water Rule

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency published a rule postponing the effective date of the Clean Water Rule for two years, until February 6, 2020.

The Clean Water Rule defined the extent of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It was supposed to have become effective on August 28, 2015, but was immediately challenged in multiple lawsuits and was eventually stayed nationwide by the Sixth Circuit. Disputes on the merits were put on hold while the courts decided whether the cases should proceed in the district courts or in the appellate courts. Continue Reading

Real Estate Aspects of Tax Reform

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the most extensive overhaul of the United States tax regime in over thirty years. The new tax laws will have a significant impact upon taxpayers in all income tax brackets, all businesses and every sector of the economy, including real estate. This alert provides a brief summary of some of the provisions that are likely to impact real estate developers and investors, both at the fund level and the property level, and provides some insight in terms of what real estate developers and investors should consider in their tax structuring going forward. Continue Reading

District Courts Have Jurisdiction Over Challenges to Clean Water Rule, Supreme Court Says

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal district courts can hear challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2015 Clean Water Rule, rejecting the federal government’s arguments that federal courts of appeal have exclusive jurisdiction over such claims. The Court’s ruling means that the Sixth Circuit will have to dissolve its nationwide injunction against the Clean Water Rule, which revised the definition of “waters of the United States” that are subject to the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, suits in district courts can proceed, including a suit in the District of North Dakota, where the court granted an injunction against implementation of the Clean Water Rule in 13 states.

Continue Reading

WARNING: Prop 65 Has Changed – If Your Product Is Sold In California Or You Do Business In California, Pay Attention

What is Prop 65?

Prop 65 is a California law that requires California consumers receive warnings regarding the presence of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The law is highly technical, constantly evolving and actively enforced by the government and private enforcers. Continue Reading